Seattle Totems defeat the Portland Buckaroos in "the wildest hockey game ever perpetrated," on April 21, 1968.

  • By Nick Rousso
  • Posted 1/10/2021
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 21148

On April 21, 1968, a goal by Guyle Fielder (b. 1930) in sudden-death overtime gives the Seattle Totems a stunning 7-6 victory over the Portland Buckaroos in Game 2 of the Western Hockey League finals. Fielder's goal caps Seattle's comeback from a 6-2 deficit and comes against the Totems' avowed enemy, Portland, and its crusty leader Connie Madigan. Fielder will call it the biggest goal of his storied career. It was, writes Georg N. Meyers in The Seattle Times, "the wildest hockey game ever perpetrated in the Tin Tepee" ("The Sporting Thing: Pride Prickly Prod"). 

"Spite on Skates, Malice on Ice"

The Totems and Buckaroos were bitter rivals in the Western Hockey League (WHL), though in some respects it wasn’t much of a rivalry on the Portland side. The Buckaroos routinely throttled the Totems. Their mastery began with a victory in the 1961 WHL finals in the Buckaroos' inaugural season, and the teams would meet in the playoffs only two other times before the league folded in 1974. As Portland built a powerhouse around center Art Jones in the 1960s, the Totems meandered up and down the standings. At one point, the Buckaroos defeated the Totems 15 consecutive times.

Making matters nearly intolerable for Seattle, the WHL was a compact league with as few as five teams in some seasons, meaning the Totems and Portland could meet as many as 17 times. The repeated sight of Portland defenseman Connie Madigan (b. 1934) was particularly troubling. "I didn’t even know the guy and I hated him," recalled Seattle star Guyle Fielder. "I hated playing against him. He'd fight at the drop of a hat" (Vantour, 278). Longtime Totems trainer Dick Bielous professed blanket hatred for the Buckaroos: "We didn't like Art Jones. In fact, we hated everyone in Portland" (Vantour, 278).

The press had a field day with the rivalry. "In all the realm of sports can there be a more corrosive competition than between the Queen City and the Rose City in hockey?" Hy Zimmerman wrote in The Seattle Times. "It is spite on skates, malice on ice" ("The Striped Shirt ..."). When former Totems defenseman Gordy Sinclair ended up in Buckaroos training camp in 1966, the sight of him in enemy togs was jarring: "Skating easily in pregame warmup, he wore the despised and hated red of Portland, the main cause of frustration for Seattle hockey fans in recent years," Bill Knight wrote in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "The mere sight of the Portland uniform has the same effect on a Totem follower as the red cape being waved in front of a bull. And for a long-time Seattle favorite like Sinclair to be decked out in red and skating with the likes of Connie Madigan, Art Jones and Doug Messier seems as out of place as Mamie Stover at a Sunday school picnic" ("Bucks Beset …").

The Totems finally snapped their 15-game losing streak to Portland on March 11, 1966, to the delight of Zimmerman, who wrote: "Horses just may fly and rocks float ... After last night, anything is possible. Last night, the Seattle Totems beat the Portland Buckaroos. After 15 straight submissions to the Cowboys, the Totems' long, long lane finally turned" ("Totems Rally …").

A year later, on March 31, 1967, the rivalry reached one of its frequent boiling points before 12,827 fans at the Seattle Center Coliseum. The Totems peppered Portland goalie Don Head with 61 shots, but couldn't get the puck past him in a 2-0 loss. Their frustrations mounted in the third period. Finally, Totems rookie Jim Paterson squared off with Madigan. "The Paterson-Madigan unpleasantries erupted into an authentic knuckle-rodeo," wrote Georg N. Meyers in the Times. "Players stormed from both benches. Police swarmed to the barrier to cope with indignant fans striving to join the fray. For nearly 20 minutes the battle raged out of control of officials who knew the difference between discretion and valor. Madigan ultimately was escorted to safety, shirt and shoulder pads ripped off his manly chest. The fans ate it up" ("Myrtle's New Home").

Battling the Buckaroos

After the Totems captured the 1967 WHL championship, they made a curious move: They swapped goaltenders with the Buckaroos. Out went Jim McLeod, one of the '67 playoff heroes, and in came Head. "With the possible exception of Connie Madigan, no skater in a decade has been greeted on Seattle ice with more ardent loathing than Don Head," Meyers wrote. "In the eyes of the Seattle Totem fan, Madigan is insufferable. Mr. Obnoxious of any year. But in the attributes of pugnacity, repugnance and knavery, Connie had to work hard to stay ahead of his Portland teammate in goal, Donald Charles Head. Now after seven sweet years of booing the ears off Head, Totem loyalists are confronted with the obligation of loving him" ("The Head …").

The goalie exchange did little to slow Portland's momentum. The Buckaroos outplayed the Totems during much the 1967-1968 season. A marquee game in Portland on January 1, 1968, was a debacle, Knight wrote in the P-I: "Left strangling in the noose of their own mistakes, the Seattle Totems were annihilated by the Portland Buckaroos in a violent hockey game here last night. It was probably the Totems' worst performance of the season, in one of their most important games. The final score was 6-3 and the loss cut Seattle's lead over second-place Portland to two points" ("Totems KOd"). 

Portland soon moved into first place, though the race remained tight. The margin was four points when the teams met in Seattle on March 16. "Will the attendance be the largest at a hockey game here in two seasons, topping the 12,827 just one year ago against the Bucks?" Knight pondered in the P-I. "Will the bitterness which has made the Seattle-Portland series the roughest in the WHL once again this season -- 16 major penalties, eight on each club, in nine games -- erupt into another punch party over ice?" ("Totems, Bucks Collide"). The answers were affirmative. A crowd of 13,070 -- the second-largest in Seattle hockey history -- saw "a sudden-death overtime battle fraught with dramatics … a tumultuous 2-2 Western Hockey League deadlock" ("13,070 See Totes …").

Fights were plentiful. Fielder was known as the WHL's "most gentlemanly" player, an award he won three times, but he spent the third period and overtime in the Totems' dressing room after a brawl escalated into a confrontation with referee Bob Sloan. According to the P-I, "It started with Keke Mortson and Red Eye Hay swapping punches behind the Portland net … When a double penalty on Mortson was announced, Fielder raced after Sloan in protest. The referee waved his finger in Guyle's face, then raised his hand, indicating the misconduct call. Sloan skated across the ice to the official bench with Fielder in hot pursuit. Steaming mad by now, Fielder pushed the referee into the boards and that was his ticket to the shower" ("13,070 See Totes …").

"The atmosphere was combustive; the very ice seemed to gleam with menace," Zimmerman wrote the following week. "In this, a social series of bickering and brawling, the fans do not reach a pique; they bring it with them. And last Saturday, before even the game began, a Seattle spectator doused Portland's Connie Madigan with brown liquid, coffee or cola" ("The Striped Shirt ...").  

Portland's torment of the Totems continued with a 2-1 victory in front of another frenzied Coliseum crowd on March 24. "For the seventh time since the Seattle club moved into the Coliseum in 1964, more than 12,000 fans jammed the arena to near capacity," the P-I wrote. "All of those games have been against Portland. And the Totems are still looking for their first victory. Their best effort to date has been a 2-2 tie a week ago last Saturday" ("12,068 + Portland …"). Still, the Totems were optimistic heading into the 1968 playoffs and a likely meeting with the Buckaroos. "Ours is a club that has improved during the season," forward Chuck Holmes said. "We started out with an undecided defense. Now it's solid. Earl Heiskala has been a big help to Fielder. So many guys were chopping Guyle and taking a run at him. They're not doing it anymore because Earl can hit a guy pretty solid" ("Totems Seek …").

The Totems quickly eliminated Phoenix in their first playoff series and Portland survived a scare against San Diego. For the first time since 1961, Seattle and Portland would meet in the playoffs, and right away there was drama. Because the "Ice Follies" were coming to the Coliseum, the Totems would soon be a team without home ice. The WHL's solution was to schedule Games 1 and 2 in Seattle, with Games 3, 4, and 5 in Portland. Game 6, if needed, would be at a neutral site in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Game 7 would be back in Portland. The Totems would play two home games but no more. The P-I's Royal Brougham noted that Seattle fans were "unhappy over the cockeyed schedule which gives the Bad Guys from Portland a decided advantage if the series doesn't end in five games" ("Bad Break …"). As events would show, Portland didn't see it that way.

The Totems looked snappy in a 2-0 victory in Game 1 with Head shutting out his former team. "Seattle's 2-0 win in the opener did no lasting damage," wrote the Portland Oregonian. "The Bucks were flat, mechanical, lacking in imagination" ("Bucks Study …"). Game 2 would surely showcase the Buckaroos at their best.  

'The Wildest Hockey Game'

Game 2 began dreadfully for the Totems. Portland scored three times in a penalty-filled first period, twice with a man advantage, to take a 3-1 lead. The second period was 24 seconds old when Totems defenseman Dwight Carruthers was sent off for hooking, and Art Jones quickly scored an unassisted goal to make it 4-1. The crowd briefly came to life when a solo dash by Fielder made it 4-2 five minutes into the period, but the Buckaroos answered just 30 seconds later. When Arnie Schmautz slipped the puck past Head late in the period with Portland down a man, the Buckaroos had a seemingly insurmountable 6-2 lead. "The Seattle cause was hopeless," Knight wrote. "At least that's the way it looked" ("What a Comeback! …").

What followed was the most dramatic comeback in Seattle hockey history, in what Meyers would call "the wildest hockey game every perpetrated in the Tin Tepee" ("The Sporting Thing"). The Totems struck quickly in the third period: "Bill Dineen started the fantastic Totem comeback while the fans, grumbling over a 6-2 Seattle deficit, where still returning to their seats after the second intermission. Keke Mortson passed from behind the net and Dineen blazed away with a 15-footer with just 18 seconds played in the period. Another 58 seconds later, Chuck Holmes put life into the corpse with a 20-foot shot from the left side" ("What a Comeback!").

With the score now 6-4 and the crowd stirring, the teams sparred back and forth for seven minutes before the Totems' Bob Courcy beat rookie goaltender Marv Edwards. "Courcy took a Fielder pass on the move, skating down the right wing, faked and blasted for the score to bring down a thundering roar of approval from the fans" ("What A Comeback! …"). Still 11:09 remained in the period. The Buckaroos summoned Jim McLeod, the former Totem, to replace Edwards. Wrote Meyers:

"Jimmy scooted onto the ice, planted himself in the mouth of the goal and wigwagged his fellow Buckaroos to slap a few pucks at him for a brief warmup. Bill Saunders smacked the first practice shot – and it glided past McLeod and into the net. The 8,961 fans in the Coliseum roared in derision. Jimmy McLeod's neck reddened, and it never cooled off. Two more pucks got past him … The first, with 19 seconds to play in the third period, tied the score at 6-6. The next, 6 minutes 9 seconds into sudden-death overtime, bequeathed the Buckaroos distinction as the first Western League team ever to score six goals in playoff game and lose" ("The Sporting Thing: Pride Prickly Prod").

The third period and overtime featured an improbable barrage of goals by the Totems, who finished the regular season as the lowest-scoring team in the league. Meanwhile, Portland had yielded only 168 goals in 72 games, a WHL record for stinginess. Somehow, the Totems pocketed five goals over a 26-minute span and had another would-be goal (with 2:22 remaining in the third period) nullified by a high-sticking infraction. Holmes scored the tying goal, deflecting a Dineen shot past McLeod with 19 seconds remaining. Defenseman Larry Hale had four assists, a WHL playoff record.

Fielder ended the dramatics in overtime, driving home a rebound. "I was lucky enough to get the winning goal," he recalled. "Nothing fancy. I was in the center of the ice, in the slot. I don't know how I ended up there. The puck just landed on my stick and I shot it in. It was the biggest goal I ever scored" (Vantour, 288).

Hoisting the Cup

The Buckaroos being down 2-0 to the Totems rankled Oregonian beat reporter Leo Davis. In his advance of Game 3, Davis speculated on a scheduling conspiracy favoring the Totems. Was it coincidence that the WHL was headquartered in Seattle?

"So the series moves to the [Portland] Coliseum where it would have begun but for a high-pressure, poor-mouth selling job by the league office. If you think the overtime loss is a puzzle, try explaining to the Buckaroos why they had to play the first two games of the series on Seattle ice. A first-place finish entitled them, according to league rules, to four of seven at home including the first and last games. But Seattle came begging. In order to discharge the 'obligation' to Totems fans, the league ignored its obligation to the Buckaroos" ("Bucks Study …").

Davis then took aim at Seattle's unruly fans. "Actually, Seattle should be glad to get out of town, too. The Saturday night game wound up in an egg and whiskey throwing display and it took more than gentle persuasion to restrain Connie Madigan, one target of the abuse. Management has provided a screen for protection, but it should add a moat … or throw in a muzzle with the price of admission. Seattle is a fine hockey team, and it performed a minor miracle in that overtime game. But it may be remembered for the company it keeps rather than the cups it wins" ("Bucks Study …").

The Buckaroos never recovered from the 7-6 stunner in Seattle. They won Game 3 on their home ice, but the Totems prevailed in overtime in Game 4, Marc Boileau tipping in a pass from Holmes three minutes into sudden death. "Bucks Face Staggering Odds, Momentum Of Spirited Totems," read an Oregonian headline before Game 5. The Totems crushed the Buckaroos 4-0. "The Totems used exactly the same strategy they employed so successfully through the series," Knight wrote. "They played a tight defensive game, scored the first goal to force the conservative Buckaroos to come out of their shell, and when they did the Totems simply blitzed them" ("Totems Are Kings …").

The underdog Totems were WHL champions for the second consecutive season. They guzzled champagne from the Lester Patrick Cup and hoisted coach Bill MacFarland (1932-2011) on their shoulders and tossed him into the showers. In the jubilant din of the winning locker room, no one had an inkling that the Seattle franchise would never win another playoff series.

Buckaroos coach Hal Laycoe (1922-1998) was gracious in defeat, telling the Oregonian, "For the first time I can't feel too bad about losing. We lost to a team that was stronger physically, a team that simply outmuscled and outhustled us when it had to" ("Bucks Entitled …"). But Laycoe was bitter. "It was a good year and a good playoff. Only the scheduling of the final round lacked class. Giving the edge to Seattle was wrong and I'll always say so. We played 72 games to get the edge and had it taken away from us by a long-distance phone call" ("Bucks Entitled …").

Back in Seattle, MacFarland was asked if the series had a turning point. "It had to be when we heard they were crying in Portland about having to play the first two games in Seattle," he said. "They had to be thinking negative" ("Totems Are Kings …").


Sources:

Bill Knight, "Bucks Beset by Problems; Oh, My! Such Worries," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 8, 1966, p. 11; Bill Knight, "Totems KO'd In Slugfest," Ibid., January 2, 1968, p. 25; Bill Knight, "Totems, Bucks Collide," Ibid., March 16, 1968, p. 7; Bill Knight, "12,068 + Portland + Totem Loss," Ibid., March 25, 1968, p. 31; Bill Knight, "Totems Are Kings … Again!" Ibid., April 27, 1968, p. 8; Bill Knight, "What A Comeback! Totems Win In Overtime," Ibid., April 21, 1968, p. 36; Bill Knight, "13,070 See Totes Tie Bucks," Ibid., March 17, 1968, p. 61; Royal Brougham, "Bad Break For Fans?," Ibid., April 23, 1968, p. 23; Hy Zimmerman, "Totems Rally To Beat Buckaroos -- At Last," The Seattle Times, March 12, 1966, p. 12; Walt Parietti, "Brief Bit Of Jawing – Then The Fists Began Flying," Ibid., April 1, 1967, p. 6; Walt Parietti, "Bucks Trip Totems Again," Ibid., April 1, 1968, p. 19; Hy Zimmerman, "The Striped Shirt; Tough-Job Dept.," Ibid., March 21, 1968, p. 28; Georg N. Meyers, "The Sporting Thing: Myrtle's New Home," Ibid., April 2, 1967, p. 33; Georg N. Meyers, "The Sporting Thing: Pride Prickly Prod," Ibid., April 23, 1968, p. 50; Georg N. Meyers, "The Sporting Thing: The Head Can Smile," Ibid., November 8, 1967, p. 32; Leo Davis, "Bucks Study Totem Trend," Portland (Oregon) Oregonian, April 22, 1968, p. S1; Leo Davis, "Embattled Bucks At Crossroads In Bid To Reclaim Patrick Cup," Ibid., Apirl 24, 1968, p. S1; Leo Davis, "Totems' Momentum Threatens Bucks," Ibid., April 26, 1968, p. S1; Leo Davis, "Bucks Entitled To Celebration Despite Playoff Loss," Ibid., April 28, 1968, p. S1; James Vantour, I Just Wanted to Play Hockey (Ottawa: Baico Publishing, 2017), 70-73, 117-118, 186, 244-247, 264, 278, 280-292, 298-299; Jeff Obermayer, Seattle Totems (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2015), 47-64.


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